Why Tech Companies Hire Contract Engineers
Decoding the Role of Contract Software Engineers in Big Tech
September 12, 2023 · 5 min read
So, I was scrolling through Blind, the other day and stumbled upon a post that got me thinking.. Someone mentioned that contract engineers probably shouldn’t talk about the companies they've worked for on their resumes. Why? Well, they seemed to believe that if you're a contract worker, it’s probably because you didn't make the cut for a full-time gig and you're left handling the "leftover" tasks that nobody wants to do. Sounds a bit off, doesn't it?
Such perceptions can be damaging and, while they might hold a grain of truth for a select few situations, they don't represent the broader reality of contract work in the tech industry. In this article, I aim to dispel the myths surrounding contract software engineers and explain why they are hired by leading tech companies
A Glimpse of My Career
My tech journey has been both diverse and fulfilling. It all began at Walmart Labs, where I took the lead as an intern on an Android application project and later transitioned to a full-time software engineer role, focusing on system redesigns. Subsequently, at Meta, I took on the role of a software engineer generalist. In this capacity, I played a pivotal part in the complete revamp of Facebook.com. My current role as a UI engineer contractor at Apple involves developing a comprehensive internal software system that seamlessly integrates sales and supply chain processes. Across different roles and renowned companies, I've gained valuable insights into the nuances of various employment models.
Throughout my tenure in the tech industry, I've had the privilege of navigating both contract and full-time roles in esteemed organizations. From spearheading projects at Walmart Labs and Meta to my current contractual involvement with Apple, each experience has gifted me a broader perspective on the nuances and dynamics of the tech workspace. I fully recognize that, like in any domain, there may be isolated incidents where contract roles are undervalued or even misused by some entities. However, to paint the entire realm of contract employment with the same brush based on the actions of a few outliers would be an oversimplification. It's essential to differentiate between the broader, more prevalent realities of contractual work and the exceptions, which unfortunately do exist in our industry.
So Why Do Big Tech Companies Hire Contractors?
Having been a contractor myself at Apple, I've personally experienced the dynamics of such roles in a tech behemoth. It's a topic of discussion that often emerges: Why do tech giants, with vast resources at their disposal, opt for contract software engineers? The reasons are manifold and, in many ways, attest to the evolving landscape of the tech industry. Let's delve deeper.
1. Specialized Skills:
Occasionally, specific projects necessitate niche expertise that's absent in-house. This is where contractors shine, by providing specialized skills on a temporary basis. Platforms such as Toptal have observed a heightened demand for particular proficiencies, like blockchain and artificial intelligence. These trends show that companies are increasingly relying on contractors to bridge the gap in niche roles. From my own experience, I found myself filling a vital role in a team that was urgently seeking someone with a knack for designing user-centric interfaces that met stringent design standards.
2. Cost Efficiency:
The financial aspect of hiring cannot be overlooked. Engaging full-time employees brings along added overheads – benefits, training, and extended salaries. Contractors emerge as a pragmatic choice when the focus is on short-term or project-specific requirements, ensuring companies maintain cost-effectiveness without compromising on talent.
Time is of the essence in the dynamic world of tech. The agility in hiring contractors is significant for companies aiming to swiftly address immediate project needs. This is backed by data, as the Society for Human Resource Management points out that the average time to fill a full-time position lingers around 42 days. Reflecting on my journey, I can vouch for the expedited process of securing a contractor role, which was noticeably more streamlined than traditional full-time interview circuits.
4. Fresh Perspectives:
Diversity of thought is an underrated asset. Contractors, with their vast exposure across different companies and varied projects, are poised to introduce novel ideas and methodologies. A Freelancers Union survey further fortifies this viewpoint, revealing that a significant 65% of freelancers are of the belief that their diverse clientele and project spectrum elevates their work caliber. On a personal note, although the specifics of my ongoing projects remain confidential, there have been countless instances where my prior experience has ushered in a fresh perspective, greatly benefiting the team.
5. Project-based Needs:
Not all projects are perennial. Some, like system migrations or the development of a unique feature, have a clear conclusion. Once these projects culminate, the need for an expansive workforce diminishes. For instance, consider the scenario of a company architecting a novel system with a tight deadline and demanding high throughput. Hiring contractors becomes the logical choice, primarily because of the transitory nature of the requirement. Interestingly, it's worth noting that the relationship between a contractor and the company doesn't always end with the project. Depending on various factors, such as performance, skills showcased, and the company's evolving needs, a contractor might transition into a full-time role. This isn't just confined to the project they were initially hired for; their expertise could be channeled into other avenues, given that the company is now well-acquainted with their capabilities, sometimes more so than with a fresh recruit.
The role of contract software engineers in the tech landscape is more significant than most realize. While the dynamics of contracting come with their unique challenges, the benefits and contributions are undeniably impactful. For companies, it's about tapping into specialized skills, cost-efficiency, and agility. For contractors, it's an opportunity to diversify experiences, learn from different environments, and often bring fresh perspectives to teams.
If you're a company considering hiring contractors or a professional contemplating a contract role, remember that it's not about the label – it's about the value brought to the table.